An amazing woman by the name of Heather sent me an email that has touched my heart in ways I cannot express in words. In the year of 2005 she was diagnosed with a very rare form of Cancer: Pleural Mesothelioma. She had given birth to her daughter, Lily just three months prior to this earth shattering news. As a mother, I honestly cannot imagine the devastation and fear this amazing woman must have felt upon hearing she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma Cancer. It has been eight years since the birth of a beautiful little girl and eight years since she was diagnosed. She has made it her mission to spread awareness about this rare form of cancer as many are not aware of it just as I have made it my mission to spread awareness about chronic pain and how to live a happy life despite pain. Her email helped me to see how much more we are all alike than different. The hardest part about living with any illness is feeling alone as most of my readers feel each and every day. Following my bike accident and subsequent brain surgery I began to live with chronic pain except I had no idea what was wrong with me. This was many years ago and chronic pain was not spoken about and there was not one person I knew who had chronic pain or understood what I was feeling. The loneliness, guilt, helplessness, depression, and isolation made living with chronic pain truly unbearable until I eventually wanted to give up on my life. As most my readers know I hit rock bottom in Boulder, Colorado when I spent my nights drinking with friends to numb my physical pain and my days in tears. Most people thought I was crazy (and not the Jessica fun crazy.) I looked fine, my scars hidden by my long hair and I never spoke about the pain because I was tired of people thinking I was seeking attention which could not have been further from the truth.
It was not until I entered the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic in MN that I started to have hope. I cannot tell you how terrified I was to enter a program alone whose theory was to accept chronic pain and learn to live with it naturally and live a great life despite pain. I was scared for many reasons: I was alone in Minnesota, I did NOT want to hear there was no cure, and I felt as if I was giving up if I chose to accept chronic pain and stop searching for a cure. I took a leap of faith as I had nothing to lose and gave it a shot. I spent each day in physical therapy, occupational therapy, meditation/mindfulness classes, nutrition and exercise lessons, and most importantly support groups. I have practiced the regiment I learned from the amazing doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists for about fifteen years now with a few bumps in the road. Yes, all of the lessons I learned and the techniques I was taught helped me more than I can express. However, what saved my life was being around people who also had chronic pain and felt just as lonely, isolated, crazy, and depressed as I did. For the first time in my life following brain surgery I was not alone. Some people had fibromyalgia, phantom pain, RSD, CRPS etc. It did not matter where our pain was located or what our diagnosis was because pain is pain. Who saved my life? Me. But, I could not have done it alone. It was my fellow peers who also had chronic pain that helped keep me alive and strong.
I am so grateful for Heather, the woman who has changed my entire way of thinking. We are all so much more alike than we are different. Heather was diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer at the young age of thirty six. She too found her strength and hope from other people who also had this rare form of cancer. So many of us have an illness: cancer, chronic pain, MS, depression, heart issues, PTSD etc. I have no idea what it must feel like to have cancer and this woman is an inspiration to myself and I hope everyone that reads her story. I only know what it feels like to have chronic pain and the anxiety/depression that comes with it. All we need is support and to be connected to people who “suffer” from the same disease. Heather and I have the same goals for our life and are both making a terrible/life altering diagnosis and turning it into something positive: helping others and spreading awareness and support. I urge you to read her story. I will post her link at the bottom of this post. You are not alone no matter what you are diagnosed with. Someone out there feels just as you do and it is my job to not only help you find support but to teach you how to live the life you want and deserve despite your invisible illness.
This post is dedicated to: Heather Von St. James.